Monday, July 15, 2019

Genesis 28:10 -22 “Jacob’s Dream”

Jacob’s History
As we find him in Chapter 28 he is living in fear of his brother Esau.  You will remember that he has twice deceived and taken away significant privileges from his brother Esau. He  took away his brother’s  birth-right (Gen. 25:29-34)  - the  rights of the firstborn by  which he would inherit his father’s land  and  the family line would be perpetuated through him. He also took away Esau’s covenant blessing  (Gen.27), which was  ordinarily  reserved for  the oldest son.  

But that is not all. Esau himself had contributed to the problem, for he had sat loosely and indifferently on these privileges.  Beware of sitting lightly on spiritual privileges!  He was a man whose belly was his god. He was sensually driven. When he came home hungry from the fields and smelled that pot of lentil stew that his brother had made, and because he wanted it now, he   sold his  birth-right for that  pot of lentil stew.  And so it was that he lost his spiritual inheritance.

However it was not only Jacob’s connivance and Esau’s unprincipled way of thinking that got him into this mess. Their  parents,  Isaac  or Rebekah had  contributed greatly to it all.   The result of  this family’s poor relationship with  God and  with one another  ultimately caused  the fact  that  Esau’s heart grew bitter and that  he  therefore intended to kill Jacob after  their father Isaac had died (Gen. 27:41).  His bitterness serves as an example  and a warning in the NT.  
Hebrews 12:15-17 reads,   “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birth right for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears."

And now remember that over and above all this  there is the fact  that God had decreed  that  the promised seed (the Messianic line) should  continue via  Jacob the younger brother (Gen. 25:23àMalachi 1:2,3; Rom 9:12,13). The fact that this plan came about in such a crooked manner, has caused Bible expositors to spill much ink on this subject.  The Bible however weaves  the story  together in an astonishing  and shows us that  all of man’s sin will not  derail God’s purposes. Isaiah  reminds us  of this: “Remember this  and stand firm , recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God and there is no other; I am God and there  is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and  I  will accomplish all my purpose…”   (Isa. 46:8-10).

God’s purpose was that Jacob was God’s chosen vessel. No matter how little you may like this quote from Malachi 1:1,2,  “… I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated…”, …it is a prerogative that belongs to the sovereign Lord. The sovereign God expects us to trust Him in this matter. As Creator, He commands us to wait patiently for the unfolding of His plan and the opening of the doors. Unfortunately, we  like Jacob and Rebekah, are  all too  tempted  to engineer  our  own futures. We think that we can speed up God’s plans by lending Him a hand here and there through devising our own plans. In this process we will not even shy away from deception and manipulation.  Rebekah sought to push Jacob into the “fast track“.  But did not the LORD tell her at the birth of her sons that “the older shall serve the younger “ (Gen. 25:23)?   All she needed to do was to wait for God to act. He was already destined for this position by God.  Instead, she pushes her son Jacob to   act deceitfully so that he might inherit the covenant blessings by force. But there are no shortcuts to Christian success. We must keep in step with the Spirit (Gal.  5:25). 

As a result of this  deceit, and also as a result of his own twisted, emotionally driven, feelings orientated  personality   Esau  hated Jacob so much, that he had  begun to devise murderous  plans  in his heart against his brother  (which would be a repeat of Cain  and Abel in  Genesis 4). Deceit  destroys   family relationships.  The result of this is that Jacob had to flee and actually spend 20 miserable years under the roof of his deceitful uncle Laban, and away from his promised land.

Thankfully God loves His people still, even when their steps are momentarily away from Him.  Moses, Elijah and Jonah all ran away from God’s decreed will for a while.  But, the God who had called them and who had decreed their work for them, brought them back to His purposes – even in a roundabout way!  God’s plan for Jacob was not hindered by the favouritism of Isaac, nor by the schemes of Rebekah, nor by the  evil intentions of Esau. Man can neither thwart God nor help him. Isaiah 46:10 says,   My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’.

And so it happens  that Jacob  flees from Esau to the house of Laban his uncle.  As he flees, he came to a certain place and stayed there the night (28:11).  At this point God  appears to him in a remarkable dream. 

Jacob’s Dream (28: 12-15)

In his dream he saw“…a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold (!) the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold (!) the LORD stood above it and said, ‘I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac…”  (28:12,13)

Just a brief word about dreams;   at this stage there had been no written revelation such as we have in our hands today.   Even the law of Moses was still in the future.  Hebr. 1:1 says that  “Long ago , at many times and in many ways God spoke to our fathers….”.  God spoke very directly to people then, but since Jesus, the Son of God, and the last prophet has come and has spoken the last word, we now have the Bible as our ladder to heaven.

In his dream there was a ladder between earth and heaven. The ladder showed Jacob that there was a way made by God from earth to heaven. The angels that were ascending and descending the ladder were God’s ministering spirits (Hebr. 1:14), but what is most amazing about this picture is the way in which the Lord Jesus makes reference to Jacob’s dream in John 1:51, where He speaks with Nathanael, “And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  Jesus was showing Nathanael there that He Himself was that ladder to heaven! He was telling Nathanael that He is the new and living way to God! What a picture!  This OT story is an illustration of the saving work of God.  Jesus is our ladder to God in heaven. He leads us to God. He is the way to God (John 14:6).  At the top of this ladder (behold! Hebrew “hinneh”) there stood the LORD (Yahweh).

This was the first time that Jacob would actually meet the God of Abraham and Isaac, his father personally. This experience becomes the pivotal, life- changing event  of his life.  Nobody meets God and is not changed. This is the experience that changes him. And here  the Lord  confirms once again to Jacob  what He had  already promised to his mother Rebekah – and  even more significantly what He promised to Abraham  (Gen. 15):  The land on which you lie I will to give to you and your offspring (28:13).  This land was not better or more fertile or more beautiful than other parts of the world.  The Lord chose this land because He needed a spot where a cross could be planted[1], on which His Son would bear the sins of the world. This land would  bring forth the  incarnate Son of God , and so we can truly see  the  real and ultimate  fulfilment of this promise “ in you  and your offspring  shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” (28:14)

28:15“Behold, I am with you … and will keep you… I will not leave you”.  This is what makes it possible to be a follower of God. Those were also the words that the Lord Jesus spoke to His disciples. “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”   (Matt 28:20)
This dream – this meeting with God came just at the right time.  Up to this point Jacob had been a man on his own mission.  Up to this point he was not running into the arms of God, but he was running away from the brother who wanted to kill him.  And behold (!) now God came to give him direction.

Jacob’s awakening (28:16-22)

Jacob woke up - and it is the awakening that tells us whether the dream had been real or not.  For many of my dreams I am thankful that they were only dreams. But in this case Jacob realized that this had been more than a dream. He  knew that he had been in the Lord’s presence, and he said,  “surely the Lord is in this place” (28:16).  “And he was afraid and  said,’ How awesome is this place! This is  none other than  Bet-el – the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven’” (28:17) This was the manifested glory of God. This place was heavy with the sense of God’s glory.  That is why he was afraid. The Hebrew word for ‘glory’  (kabod) indicates ‘weight’.  God was ‘heavy’ in this place.  All God’s people  in the Bible were afraid  when confronted with the glory of God.

Jacob calls this place  Bethel  (Hebr. “House of God” ). There is no temple building   - but it does not matter.  The presence of the Lord, the dwelling of God is here.  The presence of God in our midst is what matters.
This place and this encounter transformed Jacob from a worldly man into a worshipper. We have never heard him speak like this. Before this he is on the run because of his fear of Esau. Before this he is a man without real peace.  The intrusion of God into his life transforms him. When the true voice of God speaks, true transformation, true renewal takes place. Until now Jacob had only heard and known about the God of his fathers. From this moment on he knows God personally - in an experiential way.  Before this he had only known him as the God of Abraham and Isaac. Now He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!  
He knows that he is now in God’s hand and trusts Him for future  bread and clothing (28:20). He now trusts God for  a return to his  father’s  (Isaac’s) house – where he ought to be, and he commits himself  to  place a memorial stone  in this place, and later  build   an altar  (which he does in Ch. 35) to remember this remarkable dealing  of God  with his soul. Notice too that his pocket is liberated to give a tenth of  all he has to God.  (28:22)

In Jacob we now see a truly liberated man, because he has encountered the Living God.  He is now truly free to love God, truly free to serve God, to worship God and to give a tenth of all his possessions   to God with a free heart. 
This is what Jesus has come for us – to set us free indeed!  When you are a liberated man or woman, then your God is  at the top of the ladder, and you climb  that ladder  by   faith in Jesus, who is your ladder, and He leads  you into the  Father’s House,  our heavenly Bethel. 

All this does not mean that God was done  with  Jacob and that he was perfect in every way. We shall see that his journey of faith had just begun, and he had far to go. But he was in God’s  hand now, even through the  difficult days  that lay ahead. There will come another time when Jacob will meet God is a special way (cf. 32:22-32).

Thank God for days such as this. God surely knows how to encourage His people through difficult days, days of coldness and sin, days when we walk out on Him, days when we sigh, days when we want to die, all those days are in His hands. At the end of the ladder of life there is God, and there is Jesus who takes us there. All by grace.   

[1] Donald Grey Barnhouse, Genesis Vol 2. P.86

Monday, July 8, 2019

Genesis 28:1-9 “A Troubled Family in the Hands of a Sovereign God "

There comes a time in the life of every family when the young grow up, when they must leave their mother and father, get married and start their own homes. This is the account of Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah. 

How we had wished that they would present us with a godly picture and model of marriage and parenthood.  We will be disappointed. Instead, we see a compromised and a divided home. We see a marriage that did not always work well.  Isaac distrusted God’s leading in the matter of his sons. It is a recipe for  trouble, when a  family head’s  faith in God’s is dysfunctional. As a result he distrusted his family.  Isaac favoured Esau whilst Rebekah favoured Jacob. The family dynamics are explained in  25:27,28 , “When the boys grew up, Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.  Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob”. 

Now we understand that according to custom the oldest son  inherited ‘the blessing’ – the covenantal promise. However, it was made clear   from the beginning, that Jacob the twin, (younger,  by virtue of the fact  that he was born a few minutes after Esau) was the one destined   to inherit the  covenantal promises by way of  a prophetic word  from  God,  the older shall serve the younger” (25:23).  

Rebekah knew this but dealt deceitfully with her husband in order to obtain the outcome. Isaac refused to acknowledge this, because he, according to his natural instincts favoured Esau. God ultimately sovereignly overruled in the matter, but all this does not excuse the terrible behaviour of the family. This dysfunctionality would  bring trouble for many years to come.  Actions have consequences and sometimes we have to live with the consequences of our actions for the rest of our lives. Isaac and Rebekah   sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7). 

And so, we ought not to be surprised as we read the story of the venture of their boys into married life. It is hair-raising!   Esau married two Hittite women. They made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah (26:34).  Esau was an unprincipled, rash and worldly man. He had no desire after the God of His grandfather Abraham. He doesn’t care about his birth-right.   And yet, he becomes  insanely jealous  of  his brothers  status and blessing. He corrects his mistakes with  another mistake.  In our text  we  shall see that  Esau, because he knows that his parents are displeased with his choice of Hittite wives, shall take  yet another wife, and again, she shall not be from the  line of the covenant, but from Ishmael’s  family.  More about that in closing...
As  for Jacob, we shall see  in the 29th Chapter  that he lands up marrying two wives, Leah and Rachel. This is  another story of  deceit, controversy  and betrayal. This is not a story of sinning  to begin with, but of   being  sinned against. This  is  the nature of life in this world.  We ought to be constantly amazed that God works out His purposes amidst such  messy and sinful  relationships.

Genesis 28:1-9

And so, with the encouragement of his parents, Jacob begins his journey to Paddan–aram in  North Western Mesopotamia, to the  place  and home where his mother grew up.  Sadly, he will never see his mother again. When he returned from Mesopotamia twenty years later afterwards, his mother lay buried in the cave of Machpelah (49:31), whilst Isaac will still be alive (35:27).

Jacob will now  embark upon a long spiritual  journey in which he will learn to trust God. He has yet a long way to grow into a man after God's own heart.  I am fascinated by the story of Jacob the deceiver, who was later renamed Israel  (35:10He strives with God”. There are so many valuable lessons  from the life of Jacob for our  own edification,  and I intend to explore them with you.   We begin with the first nine verses.

29:1-2:  Isaac's parting words  to Jacob.            
29: 3-5:  Isaac repeats  the covenant blessing.
29: 6-9:  Esau’s   foolish response.   

1.     29:1-2  Isaac's parting  words  to Jacob.

Isaac, finally persuaded and now and listening to Rebekah (see her concern in 27:46),  strongly exhorts Jacob not to take a  wife from among the Canaanites. Esau’s marriage to Judith and Basemath, Hittite women (a part of the Canaanite race) had brought enough trouble into their family. 

In Genesis 15 we learned that the Canaanites were a cursed race.  We must understand that the Canaanite were the reference point for unspeakable evil in the Bible. So, when God instructs Moses to write the holiness code (Leviticus)  for His people, it is with reference to  the evil of these Canaanite people  that God speaks and says  repeatedly, “you shall not  walk in the customs  of the nation that I am driving out before you” (Lev. 20:23). The history of the Canaanites  is hair-raising stuff, but Esau disregarded  all this. However, when he overhears  the conversation of his father and mother with Jacob, concerning  their low view of Canaanite women, something begins to dawn on him. But more of that later …  

Isaac counsels Jacob to get a wife from Paddan-aram near Haran in NW Mesopotamia, his mother’s home. She was the daughter of Bethuel, and Jacob is told to marry one of her brother’s daughters. Again, we must emphasise that Jacob is not going to find a perfect wife there.  But Isaac and Rebekah know that  the fear of the LORD,  and  thus  a sense of common grace, associated with a culture  that fears  God,  would be found there.

What is more however is that these parents shall set Jacob on a journey that is ultimately going to be very good for his spiritual development. That is why I would like to trace this journey with you in terms of a series of sermons, which may sound a little like John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress.  It is going to be a journey with many ups and downs,  a journey of joys and fears and sorrows. But in all these things God works to make him into a godlier man. The Lord   often works the same way in our own lives to conform us to the image of Christ.

Many of Jacob's problems, and indeed our own problems can be traced to his and our own sin.  But there is a difference between the sin  of an Esau  and a Judas,   and  the sin of a Jacob and a Peter.  In the case  of an  OT Esau and  a NT Judas  their  sin  leads  them away  from God. In the case of an OT Jacob and  a NT Peter, both  are called by God  and both are  covenant  children of God, and therefore  the LORD turns their  sins into opportunities for growth and blessing. James, the brother of Jesus reminds us in this regards that trials of various kinds (i.e. induced by our own sinfulness and otherwise)  are not designed  to destroy us, but to further  our growth  in spiritual maturity (Jas. 1:2,3). That is what we shall see in Jacob's life. And God, like a wise and loving Father will not necessarily  keep us from making mistakes.  He shall not necessarily  keep us from our  wilful  want to sin.  But, He will lead us, refine us, mature us  and sanctify us through and in  it  all. 

2.     Isaac confirms the blessing to Jacob. (28:3-5)

Now, Isaac is also learning from his own mistakes.  And here Isaac confirms that covenant blessing, which God first had made with his father, Abraham, and which he had first given to Jacob, sadly in the context of deceit. However, by  confirming  this promise to Jacob,  Isaac affirms the legitimacy of that blessing, despite the fact that it was originally obtained through deceit. 
This covenant blessing will make all the difference in Jacob’s journey from now on.  Covenant means that God is holding on to Jacob, even when Jacob will at times  feel  abandoned and alone.  And in those times he has to remember God's word- God’s promise, for that is the only thing that he has to hold on to at times.  
Remember  and internalise the Word of God! Feed on it  and let it sustain you when there is nothing left.  We all  experience times such as these. The God of the covenant shall carry you, dear believer, when you have no hoarded resources left. I know. I have also been there.  This is the way  in which God grows us. This is the way in which we gain assurance of faith. In the proverbial lion’s  den we  learn  the nearness and the presence of God. 

The covenantal blessing
“May God Almighty (El Shaddai)  bless you. No-one less than the Almighty, the Everlasting God  was promised  here to be with Jacob.

…and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples.”  This is in line with the Abrahamic promise, in which God told Abraham that he and his family would become a blessing to all the nations of the earth. Well, in this blessing to Abraham, Isaac and now Jacob, the promise of God continues. The phrase “company of peoples”  (Hebr. qahal)  is the root word for the Old Testament word for ‘church’ or ‘assembly’. This is the first time it is used in the Bible.  This is a great  promise, and the fulfilment  of it is found   in the  continual line of the covenant of grace, becoming the ekklesia  the church of the NT and  eventually the  assembly of God’s people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation  will be found before the throne in heaven (Rev. 5:9; 7:9). What an incredible promise is being given to Jacob.

May he give you the blessing of Abraham to you ... Isaac is confirming that Jacob has now become  the new  head of the covenant line. Jacob the deceiver! Imagine that. But that just shows you what  Paul shows us also in the NT. God’s grace is truly amazing.  If you are a struggling Christian, then  reflect on the life of Jacob. The race is not yet finished for you, my dear brother and sister,   and God  may yet make  more  out of you  than you think. Try not resist  God in this process.

...that you may possess the land of your sojournings which God gave to Abraham. This is Canaan,  the promised land of the Hebrew people, but it is more. It is the promise of a better country ( Hebr. 11:8-10

28:5  With these words  Isaac sent Jacob away. And  now this  interesting phrase ... "And he went to… the brother of  Rebekah,  Jacob’s and Esau’s  mother .”  Birth order is not followed here, and it shows us   the sovereignty of God in  reversing the natural order of things. God's electing love doesn't work according to man- made laws. God’s election is always sovereign and free, and  we see it time and again in the Bible (i.e.the way in which David is chosen as king over Israel) 

3.      Esau's continued folly. (28:6-9)

Esau  has overheard this conversation  between  his parents and  he  heard  Isaac repeating the blessing to Jacob. And so he attempts another route to please his parents. Whereas, Esau ought to have repented, and submitted to God, he now  attempts  to  correct  the matter of his marriages  to Canaanite women, now marrying Ishmaelite wife. Maybe that was better than a Hittite, but it wasn't the answer to correct his sinfulness. He needed to flee to  God for grace.

So, there we are. We put our hands before our mouths.  The apostle Paul in Romans 9-11,  reflecting on the electing grace of God (and in  particular with respect to  the story of Jacob and Esau) ends  his  reflection with these words, 
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?" 35 "Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?" 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Ephesians 4:12-16 "Growing Into Mature Christianity"

We have enjoyed a wonderful weekend in fun, fellowship as well as feeding  on the Word of God. Our theme and purpose for the annual Family weekend was simply to continue to  build good,  God glorifying relationships at Eastside, and this not just theoretically, but practically.  
With God’s help and by His grace, I believe that we  have seen our church propelled a little further along this road, which we have been called to travel together to  our heavenly  city.

Our thoughts on improving and developing our interpersonal relationships, rooted in loving unity,  have been  derived  from this fourth chapter of Paul to the Ephesians. Let me briefly remind you what we have seen there.

1.     Verses 1-6   begin with a call   'to walk in a manner worthy'  of our Christian calling.  The key attitudes with which we are to live before God, and with one another, is by way of humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (4:2).  
Our relationships  and our unity with one another are to be  based  on our relationship with the Triune God in  4: 4-6. Him we are called to imitate.  Now it is true  that this  unity is  something that we receive  by way of a gift from  God, but it is  also true  that it is   our duty to maintain this unity  by working  on our  relationships. This unity is precious because it  is rooted in the very nature  and image  of our Tri-une God, who  exists  in the context of an eternal happy  relationship  of God  the  Father, God the  Son and  God the Holy Spirit.   
The  relationship into which we entered when we became God’s children, is now reflected  in the way  in which we live with one another,  one body (the church), one hope, one faith, one baptism, one  God and Father of all…”.   
Our context is that of living in a fallen, broken world. Words like ‘unity’ and ‘relationships’ are therefore challenging words.  We find them difficult to  implement.  But with the help of our God we find grace to do this.

2.     For this reason 4:7-11 tells us about the help which God has given us for our life together. Paul speaks here about the foundational spiritual gifts which the ascended Lord Jesus Christ has given to His church. These foundational spiritual gifts are the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor- teachers. They are given in order to promote God glorifying relationships in the body of Christ.  The apostles and the prophets  are those  that  were inspired by God the Holy Spirit  to write the Holy Scriptures  for us. 

3.     4: 12-16  then  defines the specific  task  of these foundational gifts, which   is “to equip  the saints  for  the work of the ministry, for building up  the  body of Christ, until we all attain  to the  unity of  the faith  and of the knowledge of the Son if God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the  fullness of Christ.”   Please note that, whilst  the foundational gifts  exist to equip the church,  the ministry of the church  was never given to a ‘professional class’  of people.  The ministry is given to every member of  the church. 
Illustratively then it is interesting that we see a significant number of our people involved in the Sunday morning ministry of our church. I may be well upward of 30 people that participate in serving us in one way or another on a Sunday morning.  The so called  ‘professionals’ (which they are not- most of them are dead anyway, at least the prophets and apostles)  remind us  "how to  be" the church and how  “to do church”, by drawing our attention to the Word of God.  
The  church is built  on  people  equipped by God. People exist in relationships- in a body of people, and if these  relationships do not work, then it is clear that the work of the church is hindered.  The work of God in the church is  hindered  by Satan who easily incites and tempts  members to sin. We see this in the last chapter of  this letter  to the Ephesians,  where the work of Satan, the sworn enemy of the  church, is explained.

4.     In 4: 17-32  we observe  how the  church may be alternatively hindered  and helped  in its life together. Paul  explains  what hinders  the progress of the church, and he teaches us to 'put off' these bad habits, replacing them with good, relationship- affirming and God glorifying habits. The  purpose of the so called  5 fold  foundational gifts is to help  the church  to mature  and grow  up  into Christ, with  each part working properly, making the church  body  to grow and to be built up in love.

It is therefore with this in mind that we return to our focus text  in  verses 12-16. Notice that this text speaks about the  unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God (4:12). It speaks  about  becoming mature by growing in the likeness of our Lord Jesus (4:13). It speaks  about the importance of outgrowing our  childishness (4:14)  through  a loving reflection and communication of the truth as we grow  in the image  of our Lord Jesus Christ (4:15). As we help one another to get to know the Lord Jesus, we are equipped to be the body of Christ, and as  we,  as individual parts of the body work together properly, we experience a true growth in biblical love. (4:16) 

Now we understand that all this happens against the background of living in an imperfect, sin-riddled world.  This is the result of the fall in Genesis 3. The greatest challenges that we face in this world are broken relationships at all levels of society: family, church and state. These broken relationships began immediately after the fall. As we drifted from God, so we drifted from one another. It became even worse than that. Cain killed his brother Abel. We  do not only  drift from one another,  but  we try to get rid of one another.   The Bible  reads just like our newspaper headlines – murder, betrayal, intrigue. 
However, in the midst of this  mess, God  declares His gospel. By the Gospel He is re- building  a people, a body called the church. She is  His treasured possession,  the bride of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  But the church is, as we said, called out of this broken world,  with its poor communication skills and  poor conflict resolution  skills.  
Here in the church we have to learn new attitudes, such as  humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love (4:2). 
Here we have to learn a new way of thinking under God (4:3-6). 
Here we have to be instructed by  God’s Word  in the hands of gifted people (4:7-11) whose duty it is to  communicate  the Word of God as accurately  as possible, so that His church might  be  equipped, built up, unified, mature ... and therefore growing  and  reflecting the image of God in Christ.

The reason why we constantly misunderstand each other, and the reason why there is so much conflict in the world (and sadly, even in the church) is that we are not  rooted in  lack of common understanding of who  God is, and therefore of  who we are.  This alienation from our  true roots as  God’s created beings, has caused havoc  in the world, and sadly also in the church. 
And why?  
Those  foundational  gifts responsible  for communicating the Word of God accurately, now particularly the pastor- teacher group,   have often  not  taken time and care  to communicate  the apostolic and prophetic Word carefully and prayerfully. This is the Word  given into their hands , which alone is given to heal and mend broken souls.  
Sadly many  of  God’s shepherds  have  become social workers, office managers, administrators, CEO’s and  the like (and all these functions are important in their own right), but  in so doing they have not taken  their calling to dispense  the Word of God  to the flock seriously.  Thus , in the words of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel  “they have healed the wounds of God’s people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no  peace” (Jer. 6:14, Ezek. 13:10).  
And so the flock of God in many cases has  been scattered and divided by the false  teachings  and the communications of spiritual wolves (cf. Acts 20). They have   been left to their own devices, to their own corruptions and their own imaginations, and so their churches  have by and by  crumbled and died. Many  former evangelical buildings  have  been taken over by false religions and cults. The confused  flock is  described in verse 14 : “…tossed to and fro  by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes…”.  
Bad  attitudes, poor communication habits and conflicts  are the results,  and these  are   described  in  4:17-31
Now that  all sounds very negative. But, I want to assure you that the purpose of the  entire text is not negative at all. 
The Lord  Jesus is here in Paul's theology and writing.  He is here to help us to rebuild our broken  lives and world  with  His gracious Word, truthful Word, loving Word.  Although there are hard things  here, the text is actually is entirely positive. It is rooted in the redeeming work of our Lord Jesus who came to fix broken sinners,  and to restore broken relationships. Ephesians 2 is a prime example in terms of how Jesus came to fix the broken relationship between  Jew and gentile. 
He is  here to teach us how to relate properly to one another. 
He is here to help us to speak properly to one another, and to help us  to  deal with  our many conflict situations. In ‘learning Christ’ (4:20)   we learn to  put off the old self (4:22) and put on the  new self (4:24). 

If anyone  is  willing  to listen to the Word of God today  - the Word which is the word of the apostles and prophets,   there is great hope. 

I  trust that  our pastoral team  will not be  false shepherds  to you.  We want to be  those  that  equip you, the saints of God,   for the work of  ministry, for building up the body  of Christ, until we all attain the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the  measure of the stature  of the fullness of Christ.

The ultimate goal of all that we  want to be and do  as a church is  to show the glory of our Lord Jesus  Christ  to the world around us.  So, the goal of our unity is not  to make us look good – but to make HIM look good!  But there is a wonderful  spin off in this. WE flourish in our relationships as He flourishes among us!  That is amply clear from our text. As Jesus is exalted in our midst, He gets the glory and we get the joy.  As we  learn to speak  His truth in love  (4:15)  we get the benefit of  being built up in love (4:16). This love is the greatest  testimony  and evangelistic tool the world has seen.  Christ is most clearly communicated and  understood  by the world  when  we,  the church, speak and  live together in visible and loving unity  and relationships: “By this shall all men (i.e.the world) know that you are my disciples, when you have love one for another“. (Jn. 13:35).


The key words in our text-  'unity',  'the  knowledge of Christ', 'building up', 'maturity', 'speaking  the truth in love'  … these are the  things , the design of God  that builds  good churches that glorify our  God. 

This weekend we have been reminded  by  the communication of God’s Word that we are  to be a  humble, gentle, patient, loving   people, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace as we  draw or  strength  to be this kind of people,  from our Tri-une God. 
We commit ourselves to sit under the prophetic and apostolic  teaching and preaching of the Word of God by gifted teachers, whose work it is  to equip us for the work of ministry. This ministry is a building ministry. We build! And the tools of our building  are loving communication of the truth, together with a robust  commitment  to  keeping our relationships  intact  so far as it depends upon us.  
In that process God shall have all the glory, and we shall have all  the joy.  

Monday, June 17, 2019

John 6:52-71 "The Saddest and Gladdest Passage in John’s Gospel "

Life in our fallen world is a curious mixture of gladness and sadness, of joy and of sorrow.  At one moment we can feel up – the next, down!  At one moment there is death, the next moment there is a birth. Sometimes we enjoy abundance, and then there are times when we have too little. This is life. Gladness and Sadness go together.[1]  The church has experienced such times throughout her history. Jesus certainly saw this in His earthly ministry.  Charles Spurgeon, in a sermon, makes the comment upon our text that,

Churches have summers, like our gardens, and then all things are full; but then come their winters, and alas, what emptyings are seen! Have we not all seen the flood when the tide has come far upon the beach, and have we not all marked the ebb, when every wave has seemed to fall short of that which preceded it? Such ebbs and flows there are in the history of the kingdom of Christ. One day, “The kingdom suffers violence, and every man presses into it;  at another time men seem to be ashamed of the Christian faith, and they wander off into a thousand delusions, and the church is diminished and brought low by heresy, by worldliness, by lukewarmness, and by all sorts of evils. Often may the chronicle run thus: “Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled“. It is well then, at times when those that did run well are asked by the Master: “will you also go away”? Ah, dear friends, some of you are very steadfast now while this church flourishes. How would it be if your pastor were dead, or his name in ill repute? How would you be if there was a decline in all the work of the church? Have you no backbone enough in you to be faithful if all others were faithless…. Can you fight a losing battle?… Alas! What numbers swim with the tide! How very few swim against the current. Well may the Saviour ask the question of us today, for we are as frail and fickle as others. Well may he ask it now, for worse times than these may be drawing near – “will you also go away?“”[2]  

This introduces us to our text which reveals the saddest and yet also the gladdest statements in John’s gospel.

What we have just read indicates that Jesus’ followers weren’t pleased with His teaching. They were grumbling[3] against him (6:41,61). This reminds us immediately  of the  grumbling of the Israelites against God in the desert[4]. They said to Jesus, “This is a hard saying. Who can listen to it?” (6:60).This did not mean that they could not understand Jesus’ teaching. They did understand, but they would not accept it. That is the case with so very many people. We notice then that there was an ‘ebb tide’, a low point, even in Jesus’ ministry. Those who once called Him Lord, Rabbi and ‘the prophet’ are ready to walk out on Him. 

Jesus plainly asks them, “do you take offense[5] at this?” (6:61).The Greek word here  is  skandalon’.  It was the name for that part of a trap to which the bait is attached.[6] He is asking them, “Is what I am saying to you scandalous? Does it trap you?  Do you find my words offensive?” The answer is – yes, they did find  Jesus’s words offensive. They are ready to walk out on Him, despite the fact  that they had seen His miracles, and have heard His teachings. I am constantly amazed to see how little it takes to swing a crowd’s opinion. All the capital that Jesus had gained with them had evaporated in an instant.

Allow me to briefly remind you what caused the scandal – the offence:

At the beginning of Chapter 6 Jesus had miraculously fed 5000 people. They were amazed and they followed Him, mainly because they were looking for a perpetual food supply and a hero.  Jesus tells them not to seek temporary bread, but the eternal bread which comes from heaven – that is, Himself! That is always the problem. People are always inclined to seek the gifts more than the Giver.  Jesus tried to explain that they actually did not need miraculous manna, nor a fallible human leader called Moses, as in the times of the Exodus.  Yes, they needed something to eat, and He had miraculously provided food for them on the previous day, but they actually needed much more than this physical bread.  They needed Him – the Living Bread, the food that endures to eternal life (6:27). They needed food that would sustain them for more than this life – for eternal life!

This is also true for you who hear this. Listen! Jesus came to deliver them and us from far more than hunger and sickness. He came to deliver us from the eternal hell to which the whole of humanity is heading. He came to provide eternal life.  In so doing, He invites us (speaking figuratively) to feed on Him. By this He means  that we  must  take Him into  our  very lives, into  our  own  hearts,  in order to receive  this eternal life.  When He put it to them in this graphic way in 6:53-56, saying that they needed to “eat His flesh and drink His blood”, they thought this to be scandalous and offensive to them. They interpreted His words, not in the way He intended them to be received – with love and grace and in truth.  Instead they received His words rigidly and literally, for they did not want to see it in any other way.   They did not combine His words with faith.

All that they could see and think was this, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can He now say, “I came from heaven?’ (6:42).They considered Him a mere man, even though His actions and words   should have convinced them that He was the Messiah. We learn here that mere outer appearances must never be our final criteria for judging.   In the end, because they were merely focused on appearances, they show that they did not really want Jesus. They only wanted that which He could do for them. To which Jesus answers, “Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (6:62,63) 

The Ascension of Jesus will in fact happen very soon - 40 days after He rose from the dead.  But right now they will not accept that Jesus has come from heaven (6:33,38,50,58). They will not accept Him as the Living Bread that has been given by God the Father. That is why Jesus says, “What if you see me ascend to where I was before (i.e. with God the Father)?”  

Why can they not see this?  

Jesus now repeats essentially the same thing which he has already said to Nicodemus in John 3:1-8. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”  Jesus is  saying that spiritually dead people cannot understand  these things which He is saying. Therefore they cannot understand His figurative language.  For this reason they could also not understand His parables[7]. The Holy Spirit needs to give life.  Only those that are born again can see! And Jesus continues, “But there are some of you who do not believe…” (6:64a). Understand this. Spiritual deadness always issues in unbelief. It is not the hardness of Jesus speech, nor my repeating of His profound words that is the problem. It is the hardness of our hearts that causes such a reaction. Instead of taking Jesus into our hearts we reject Him. And the John, the Gospel writer now adds this: “For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray Him. This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” (vv.64b,65 cf. 6:37,44).

This is the doctrine of sovereign election. If ever there was a doctrine that has caused many to be offended, it is this one. Many are offended by the thought that they cannot make their own way to heaven. They are offended by the thought that Jesus alone can give them eternal life - that He alone is the way to God (cf. Jn. 14:6). The sobering truth is that no one wants to go to heaven…God’s way. And so we say again, our sin blinds us; it closes our ears; it hardens our heart. We need to be born again in order to see all this.

In this passage Jesus' words are falling on hard and unproductive soil (6:66,67). This is what Jesus has already taught in the Parable of the Sower and the Seed.[8]  And that is why this is the saddest text in the entire gospel. How near they all were to Jesus, and yet how far!  We had hoped that they would see, hear and understand these spiritual and life giving words. The saddest words then are these, “After this  many  of his disciples turned back  and no longer walked with Him” (6:66).  Like shallow soil hearers they had no  root and therefore  no fruit. They showed promise for a time – but no more than that. Never let this surprise you when it happens in our own day. It even happened under our Lord’s ministry. Many over the years have come to listen to our preaching of the word… and have left, fruitless. The fact that they were called disciples ought not to unsettle us. Had these disciples then lost their salvation?  The Greek word for disciple simply means follower or learner. It does not necessarily imply that these followers were converted.  In fact, by their action they showed that they were not true disciples.  They left Him, because they could not reconcile what they wanted to believe with what He taught. There are many people who don’t like what the Bible plainly teaches. There are those that don’t like the fact that Jesus is equal with God, and that the Holy Spirit is a real person on whom we depend to see Jesus for who He is. There are those who dislike the teaching of God’s sovereign drawing of His people.  There are those that dislike the fact that God can use suffering for good. There are those that think that the Bible is too chauvinistic. There are those that cannot settle with the Bible’s clear teaching on gender identity, and so on.  Augustine had a good response to this, “If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don't like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.” If you become offended by what you perceive to be difficult doctrines, you will leave the Christian faith very soon. And so we note that the desertion is massive! In response to this Jesus asks His 12 disciples: “Do you want to go away as well?”  

The gladdest statement: The greatest statement of faith in John’s gospel

Peter gives the answer on behalf of the 12, and this proves to be a glad and a full confession of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here is the mark of the true believer. He cannot quit! Responding to our Lord’s words, Peter says in 6:68,69, Lord to whom shall we go?  He says in effect, “We confess that we do not understand you at times. You offend people who we think are important.  You say things that are hard to understand at times, but we have never found anyone who can do what you do. You meet our deepest needs. To whom else can we go? “You have the words of eternal life”.   We cannot deny your words. Nobody speaks like you do. Nobody understands us like you do.  Where else can we go? We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God…”. If you have found Jesus to be like that, where else can you go?

What have we learned from this text?

(i)     A sad truth: How dead and unresponsive man is by nature to spiritual truth – even when Christ is right among us. Note that, even among His closest disciples - the 12 disciples there was a devil, called Judas.  

(ii)    A glad truth:  As soon as we have  come to know Christ through the help that the Holy Spirit gives, we know  that there is no other way to go. We are drawn by the Father and  we have been given life by the Holy Spirit .  We gladly   take Him into us. We confess His Name. We are nourished by His Word and we know where we are going.

[1]  See Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
[2] Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Vol.  28/1882 p.110
[3]  Gr. Gonguzō – to mutter , murmur, grumble … to say  something in a low tone  - an onomatopoeic word
[4] See Numbers 14
[5] Greek: skandalizei – from which we get the English word  ‘scandal’
[6] Vines’s Greek Dictionary
[7] see Matt 13 : 10 – 17
[8] Mark 4:13ff